Of Robert Gates and Organizing in the Obama Era

 In Iraq, Nuclear Weapons, Obama

Gates bush
Thousands of you have already sent a message to the Obama transition team opposing Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense. Thank you!

A few of you also wrote to express concern that we may not be giving the president-elect or Mr. Gates a fair shake. Thanks so much to those who wrote in. I want to respond to those concerns by sharing a few thoughts on organizing in the Obama era, as well as on Mr. Gates.

Like many of you, I worked to elect Obama president. Peace Action West was one of the few peace groups to endorse Obama. And this Thanksgiving, I will express whole-hearted thanks for the election's outcome.

President Obama himself is setting the tone for a more accessible presidency, by asking for voters' input through his website and with a YouTube weekly address. In his own words, "Change doesn't come from Washington; change goes to Washington."  He is not asking for blind allegiance, but is actively encouraging voter dialogue with him.

In that vein, we thought carefully, weighing the pros and cons on Mr. Gates, before wading in at this stage. History tells us that much will be set into motion in these earliest days. History also shows that a President can't call all the shots – appointees have great power to help shape the agenda. Obama has not yet made his decision regarding Gates.

Here's why I'm deeply concerned about Gates continuing his tenure as Secretary of Defense:

A number of former colleagues in the CIA have testified to Congress that Gates "spins" intelligence to push his own policy preferences. Even conservative former administration officials like George Shultz and James Baker have called this out. Then Secretary of State Shultz once told Gates, at that time deputy director of the CIA: "I don't have any confidence in the intelligence community. I feel you all have very strong policy views. I wouldn't trust anything you guys said about Iran no matter what. I feel you try to manipulate me. You deal out intelligence as you deem appropriate. I feel an effort is made to manipulate me by the selection of material that you send my way."

Iraq: Gates has been an outspoken opponent to Obama's withdrawal plan. He accused congressional opponents of the Bush strategy of 'emboldening the enemy'.  Given all that it's hard to picture Gates implementing and defending a timeline for troop withdrawal.

Nuclear weapons: At a time when former cold warriors like Henry Kissinger and George Shultz are calling for steps towards a nuclear weapons free world, Gates has been calling for a new generation of nuclear weapons. There is a powerful, emerging consensus –supported by Obama — that the US should work to rid the world of nuclear weapons. Gates favors an aggressive nuclear policy and portrays the arms control agenda as naive.

There are other reasons, and Rebecca Griffin, our political director, has written about this in an earlier post on Groundswell. This is not about second-guessing Obama. If he does decide to keep Gates on his team – and I really hope he doesn't – I believe it's better he do so knowing our deep concerns about keeping Gates on his team.

It's not too late to share your concerns with our next president, but it will be soon. Please do send him your thoughts here.  I also invite you to comment with your thoughts on how best to organize for peace in this new era in the comments section below.

As always, Peace Action West is strengthened by the thinking of the community of folks that makes up our organization. This new political era will invite even more discussion amongst us all as we decide what organizing strategies will bring the most change. I hope you'll participate in that discussion.

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Showing 7 comments
  • James Massey

    It seems as if Obama is backing off from many of his platform promises. Maybe he is going to be just another liar in an empty suit. Not really much of a surprise….He is a politician, so here we go again.

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  • libhomo

    No peace group should ever give Obama the benefit of the doubt after this. We need to fight Obama as hard as we fought Bush.

  • JP Sebastian

    Back when Bill Clinton became President, we heard the same refrain we hear about Obama today: ‘he tacked to the right to get elected, but he’ll be a liberal once he’s in office.’
    Guess what: on almost every foreign policy decision of the day, Clinton maintained George H.W. Bush’s foreign policy (e.g. Iraq, repatriating Haitian refugees in violation of international law, etc.). Many liberals gave Clinton a free pass and as a result, he was was pulled even further and further to the right throughout his presidency.
    I do think Obama is more in line with progressive values; however, he is a perfect example of a politician who will govern according to the feedback he receives from people.
    If he only hears from conservatives, he will be pulled to the right and little will change in foreign policy from the Bush/Cheney era, other than the rhetoric.
    If he hears more from liberals and progressives, though, he will govern more progressively, and he will perceive that he has the political cover to do so.
    The neo-conservatives and fundamentalists were single-minded in their focus in 2000.
    They got their candidate elected and didn’t stop there.
    They had just gotten started. And then they chose to use the political currency of 9-11 to ‘run the table’ and transform the American government.
    We have upon us another potential major political moment: the current economic crisis. Now is the moment when progressives can seize the day and run the table, themselves, to profoundly transform America in a way we could have only imagined, over the past 28 years.
    That will only happen if we do not become silent, if we do not ensure that the only loud voices Barrack Obama hears are those of Republicans.
    If you want Barrack Obama to be as good of a president as you hope he will be in your most secret and wildest dreams, then you need to be even more vocal about your opinions… so he can be.

  • Frances Dayan

    Could you please draw up a letter for Obama that many could sign regarding this very interesting information about Robert Gates.I suspect Obama has his plate full with the economy and wants Gates to provide continuity until he can address the wars.I’m hopeful that Obama will maintain his vision though his ideas on Afganistan disturb me. Sincerely, Fran Dayan

  • Joan McKenna

    As peace activists we need to “Stay Standing”. Electing Obama or congressional progressives does not change policy. The change happens when we alter our political response to events…like sending more troops into Afghanistan and maintaining Robert Gates as the Secretary of Defense. What should our response be? What action should we take?
    Too many folks think that objecting to Gates or Afghanistan is being somehow “disloyal” to Obama.
    We need to get over that and make our voice heard in the new administration or even, now, to the Bush administration. George W is sending the troops in because Gates (and the generals) asked him to. Obama needs to ask Gates for his plan on standing down in Iraq (the “agreement” is subject to broad interpretations) and what our plan for Afghansistan is to avoid another Iraq there.
    We need to ask everyone committed to peace to “Keep Standing” and keep making our vocies heard.

  • libhomo

    Joan: You are thinking much more clearly than so many peace activists in the post election euphoria. This kind of realism is desperately needed.

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